The film is begin sold as “from the writer/director of Crash” and shares many similarities with that 2005 opus, which I found interesting on first (and possibly only) viewing, but is definitely a film that has not aged well.
Liam Neeson takes the central role as an accomplished writer, Michel, who is working hard on his latest novel, but is also working through some changes in his personal life, having decamped to Paris for an extended rendezvous with a younger flame (Olivia Wilde) and left his wife (Kim Basinger) behind in the USA. We are introduced to several secondary characters as parallel story lines quickly take shape.
In New York City, an estranged couple (Mila Kunis and James Franco) engage in a custody battle over their young son, with the support of a lawyer (Maria Bello) and several additional characters. Meanwhile, in Italy, an American businessman (Adrian Brody) meets a mysterious local woman (Moran Atlas) and is drawn into her current predicament that eventually takes them to several places across Italy.
The stories intercut with each other and with the continued development of Neeson and Wilde’s storyline, so that you know they will eventually be linked in some way, and that connection is revealed at the very end of the film.
Only problem was I guessed the connection about a third of the way into the film – and it becomes increasingly clear if you pay attention to various visual clues.
Haggis displays a similar heavy-handed approach here as seen in his earlier films, which I feel might have been initially appreciated but now are greeted with less enthusiasm. I felt that most of the actors struggled to commit to their roles, with Kunis being a particularly glaring example of trying to give A Serious Performance … and not convincing me. (In contrast, her subtle, intense dramatic role in Black Swan continues to stand out in my memory.) I felt that Brody showed the most commitment to the material, which is interesting as his storyline initially seems the most tangential, but becomes the most endearing of the three.
On a related note, WHERE HAS KIM BASINGER BEEN? Her appearance here is criminally brief, but serves as a sharp reminder of her talents. I felt that she and Neeson should have spun themselves off into a separate movie focused on an age-appropriate romance or adventure. On the opposite side, JAMES FRANCO CONTINUES TO BE EVERYWHERE and strained credibility in his role as an accomplished New York painter, with his usual smirk lurking below his serious expressions.
Neeson acquits himself well, but suffers from a contrived role. It’s refreshing to see him stepping back into adult dramas after (what feels like) several years of only focusing on action movie work. I hope that other audiences will be reminded of his earlier work – and potential for future roles – with this performance. I felt that Kunis and Wilde ought to have switched roles, where the actresses’ strengths might have been more visible in their opposite parts. As it is, Wilde enjoys several sharp – tongued script moments but suffers from an overabundance of gratuitous girlfriend scenes, with accompanying nudity.
Curiously, one of the film’s best scenes sees Wilde and Neeson visit a Parisian dance club, where they briefly interact with some locals and express their intimacy through dance and silence, accompanied by a new track from Moby. The scene shows an easy comfort with simplicity, and what’s said and isn’t said, that the rest of the movie, with its overwrought and heavy – handed exposition, sorely lacks.
The new song’s video doubles as an extended informercial for the film: